Refugees have to be dealt with as human beings, and the broader migrant community, including economic migrants, cannot be dismissed “with a wave of the hand,” the top United Nations official dealing with migration said on Wednesday.
Peter Sutherland, the Special Representative for International Migration, told a press conference in Geneva: "The obligation and responsibility to refugees and persons in distress is not defined by their proximity to the place that caused the problem,” he explained. “I think it’s important to make that point, because the burden that is being taken at the moment by Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan, and the burden in European terms being taken by the frontline States of the Mediterranean, in particular Greece and Italy, seems to by implication define a responsibility related to location rather than to the humanitarian concerns that we have.”
On the same issue, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has underlined the need for compassion and global solidarity in dealing with the arrival of refugees and migrants in Europe, in his calls with the leaders of Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia.
Commending the efforts of many European leaders, Mr. Ban encouraged the European Union countries to live up to their obligations and the standards they have set. “He underlined the need for compassion and global solidarity, and applauded the inspiring examples that have been displayed all over Europe by private citizens and civil society.”
In his press conference, Mr. Sutherland described the current situation faced by refugees and migrants fleeing conflict zones as an “appalling catastrophic situation” by which the UN is challenged.
“In earlier crisis, for example of Viet Nam and the Vietnamese boat people, where over a million people were concerned, or indeed in 1956 the Hungarian Revolution, there was a global acceptance of a responsibility in terms of refugees,” he recalled.
Mr. Sutherland also told reporters that many UN agencies are struggling to deliver humanitarian relief, including the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), which he said cannot maintain its support.
Meanwhile, in a press release published today, UNICEF announced that a rising number of women and children are passing through the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Serbia to seek refuge in Europe.
Nearly 10,000 people, approximately 40 per cent of whom were women and children, were registered crossing into the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia at Gevgelija from Greece between 1 and 6 September. More than 7,720 people were also registered crossing into Serbia through Presevo over the same time period.
The agency also informed that with its partners, it is continuing to expand humanitarian services at reception centres in the two countries.